'˜It's going to be a tight time for many people in Berwick'
Berwick's deputy mayor has led calls for the town council's precept to be frozen in light of a windfall from the Freemen trustees.
It was revealed last week that the council has received £192,000 from the Freemen, nearly £70,000 than it had budgeted for.
Despite this, the budget and administration committee had been recommended to approve a precept of £268,821, representing a rise in the household charge from town council of 2.58%. This would be £2.04 per year or 4p per week.
However, Coun Anne Forbes said: “The Schedule III (Freemen) income was budgeted at £125,000 so there’s an awful big difference compared with what we’ve actually received.
“This draft budget will not help to put food on the table. We have elderly and disabled people, many going on to Universal Credit and the county council has cut council tax support by 8%.
“It’s going to be a really tight time for many people in Berwick but we are in a position, allowed by the freemen of the town, to give these people a little bit of help.
“We don’t need to raise the precept this year. We could keep it the same. There’s absolutely no need to be putting this money into reserves.”
Coun Karin Graham said she would be unhappy to set the recommended budget when the council’s reserves are at around £150,000.
Coun Robert Bruce agreed: “There’s plenty of money in reserves. We are here to help people, we need to give them a break.”
Coun Alex Gibson, however, argued for a small rise in the precept to help pay for much-needed improvements to seats, bins and bus shelters.
Town clerk Gareth Davies advised members that the draft budget showed an increase in expenditure of nearly £40,000. It also indicated a deficit of £28,000. He recommended a 5% overall precept increase to raise £12,000, reducing the deficit to be funded from reserves to just over £15,000.
He also advised caution against dependence on income from the Freemen.
“A failure to set a balanced budget increases the risk that in future years council may not be able to meet all its commitments if, for instance, the income via Schedule III is less than the the projected total,” he said.
Members voted 6-1 to recommend no increase in the household precept. A final decision will be taken by the full council on January 28.